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Bava Kamma 48

Private chef.

mishnah on yesterday’s daf set the Gemara off on a discussion about the liability incurred by homeowners for damage sustained on their property. The majority opinion was that if the owner of the damaged property had a right to be on the property — i.e. the homeowner had invited them in — the homeowner is responsible. But if the person was trespassing, the owner is exempt. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi disagrees, claiming that the homeowner is exempt in all cases unless they explicitly take responsibility for ensuring safety. 

On today’s daf, the Gemara relates a case that turns the situation around. 

A woman entered another person’s house to bake. The homeowner’s goat came and ate the dough, became overheated and died. Rava deemed (the woman) liable to pay compensation for the goat.

In this case, it’s not the visitor (or their property) that is damaged, but the homeowner’s property that is damaged by the visitor. If the baker were trespassing, then it would seem clear that they are responsible for paying for the dead goat. The Gemara assumes that the baker was invited in, but Rava deems her liable to pay anyway. Why?

The Gemara’s first attempt at an answer is to suggest that Rava disagrees with Rav, who we learned earlier on the daf holds that if someone brings their produce into a courtyard without permission and the homeowner’s animal is injured by it, the produce carrier is only responsible if the animal slips on it. But if the animal ate it, he’s exempt. Why? Because the animal should not have been eating the produce. And since it was the animal who acted improperly, the produce carrier is exempt. Perhaps then, the Gemara suggests, Rava deems Rav’s thinking here faulty: Just as the produce carrier ought to have been careful enough to ensure the homeowner’s animal didn’t eat the produce and get hurt, the baker should have been sure to protect the goat from eating dough that might kill it. 

The Gemara rejects the comparison. The bread baker (it suggests) was given permission to bake, so she should be responsible for any damage that results. But how could the produce carrier have accepted responsibility for protecting the homeowner’s property when he wasn’t even supposed to be there in the first place? This seems counter to the majority opinion in the mishnah, where it is the people who are allowed to be in a given place that are considered exempt from any damage that results and those who don’t have permission who are responsible, but in this case the rabbis see it differently. 

So the Gemara turns to a more comparable case: A woman enters a house without permission to grind wheat and the homeowner’s animal ate the wheat. If the homeowner’s animal was injured by the wheat, the woman is liable. But if she entered with permission, she would have been exempt. Likewise, perhaps the bread baker who also entered with permission should also be exempt. But the Gemara rejects this too. 

They said: To grind wheat, since she does not require any privacy, the owners of the courtyard do not need to absent themselves, and (the responsibility for) safeguarding rests upon them. 

But to bake, since she requires privacy, the owners of the courtyard absent themselves. Therefore, the responsibility for safeguarding rests upon her.

The woman grinding wheat did not require privacy, so the owners remained while she did her work and therefore were responsible for whatever happened as a result. But the baking woman did require privacy, so the owners left and the baking woman assumed responsibility for protecting the home in their absence.

And why would a baker require privacy? Rashi helpfully tells us that baking (or perhaps kneading) is strenuous work that requires the uncovering of elbows. And because it would have been immodest to see a woman uncovered in that way, the homeowners made themselves scarce.

Read all of Bava Kamma 48 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 20th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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